Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Skin heads must read the Bible with Popular Discrimination - or  - The Critical Theory explanation for Utah Mormons.  

Nearly everyone I know who belongs to the predominant religion in UT. or who lives in UT. is familiar with the label "Utah Mormon." The term is derogative without exception, and generally used to describe an individual or a group possessing one or more traits including but not limited to judgmental, condescending, hypocritical, unkind, exclusionary, self-righteous, uncharitable, etc.

 One would wonder how this could be, as the scriptures and council to which Mormons claim to adhere commands or at least strongly suggests that one should strive to be characterized as none and in fact the opposite of  all of the latter. And although one may attribute the persistent and common occurrence of the Utah Mormon to the frailties of human error, its prevalence among the “faithful” suggests further explanation is needed. Then let us consider skin Heads and other less-obvious racists who also claim to study and routinely quote from the Bible. The New Testament in particular is chalk-full of admonitions encouraging and commanding peace, love and understanding. Then why oh why the Bible beaters gotta be the haters? Enter Stuart Hall and John Fiske and the wonders of academia that apply useful terminology to all the unfathomable questions in the world. The simple answer is that those who fail to follow the good word in the arguably (for the purpose of this assertion) good books fail because they are reading according to the ease of Popular Discrimination and not as a student of Critical Discrimination. 

Let me now share an experience from an English Lit class many years ago in which we were reading Thomas Hardy's ‘Convergence of the Twain” - a fairly well-known poem using the Titanic as an image to explore the inevitability of Fate over our lives and so forth. One student in the class suggested an interpretation in which the poem explained the inability of women to escape a misogynistic world in which they are dragged down to the depths of subjugation by chains of chauvinism and patriarchal preference (except her argument was not anywhere so intelligently phrased nor as brief). The professor failed to guide the student in any way - and I KNOW all are thinking, "poetry is subjective" so there are no wrong answers. CRITICAL DISCRIMINATION says you are wrong, Critical discrimination has brought me peace and comfort as I have been haunted by this and other similarly ill-fated and irksome readings of literature. 

One of my favorite professors introduced another helpful appendage to this argument which is a triangle. David Lee, former Utah Poet Laureate and SUU English Department Chair, with a national reputation as a poet and scholar,  taught that when one reads poetry or any great work, one should read it WITHIN the triangle. Within the triangle the work has integrity and honor and a place all its own to be weighed and considered for reading and interpretation and extraction of meaning.  The reader must stay within the triangle to understand and LEARN something about what the artist is COMMUNICATING about LIFE and the manner in which the arts communicates the HUMAN CONDITION!!! When one stays within the triangle and reads or observes art and literature from the perspective of Critical Discrimination, then what Fiske describes as a reverence to the text and the respect for the integrity of the text and the unique and valued  voice of the artist is accomplished. Within the triangle means that the text and the author, or artist if it is a visual text, is considered as an entity with a unique voice and standpoint, and that although the reader has a conversation and interaction with the text and the author, that interaction must allow for deference and respect given to the text and the artist. For instance one could not read Jany Austen without considering her time period and social standing – i,e, her books could not possible be a symbolic period piece discussing the lamentable effects of technology on romantic interaction.  Then one realizes that Hardy, knowing what we do about Hardy and his work and time period, didn't give a damn about women or misogyny and if he did, it certainly was not to be found in that poem.

 But when Popular discrimination is used to read and search for meaning or communication in a piece of art, "The popular reader holds no such reverence for the text but views it as a resource to be used at will…Popular readers are concerned less with the final unity of a text than with the pleasures and meanings that its elements can provoke.”  Fiske further explains that the popular reader lacks either or both the competence or the motivation to decode the text on its own terms. The popular reader wants only to read the text in a manner that reinforces his or her preconceived beliefs, mirrors his or her own experiences and creates pleasure and/or comfort in that reinforcement.  Fiske refers to a triangle as well but that triangle is a conversation between the audience, the producer and the text that demands the text seek to conform to the consumption needs of the audience – that the text have no merit or integrity of its own, only that it provides the pleasure of a chameleon that can morph into whatever the masses need it to be.

 This concept of Popular Discrimination explains why the general public is incapable of reading any text or observing art and absorbing and assimilating any new information. Popular Discrimination explains how Skin Heads can read the bible and its verses to support only violence and hate, ignoring all other messages. It explains how bi-annual General Conferences addressing all Mormons that include messages of acceptance, love, and charity are twisted, tortured, and morphed into the attitudes producing judgmental, exclusionary communities that spend copious amounts of money and resources on porn and plastic surgery but claim the bum on the street is too lazy or a grifter and not worthy of a dollar.

 It explains why literature is lost on people who are incapable (or unwilling) of reading a text on its own merits thus to expand one’s understanding of wide interpretations of the human condition. True Critical Discrimination allows the arts and literature to change people and makes us better, and more connected  as a human race in a way that cannot be replicated. Such Critical Discrimination allows for empathy and personal growth and understanding that seems to be absent from so much of society. 

This Popular Discrimination has given a name to that which has irked me since I had to listen to students even in high school who refused to enlarge their view of the world and their understanding of the people in it.
Read The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Beloved, Let the Great World Spin, or Love in the Time of Cholera and tell me you have not changed how you see the world around you and the people in it, and I will have to call you a popular reader.
What have you read that has changed your view of your world – metaphorically?

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